RDA Girls Showcase Possession at Thanksgiving Friendlies in Ohio
13/14s and 15s maintain dominant control of the ball over four training games in frigid conditions

Pittsburgh Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA)

November 24, 2012, Medina, OH – With temperatures dropping into the upper 20’s and constant snow swirling around the Pinnacle Sports Complex outdoor turf field, the Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA) Under-13/14 and Under-15 Girls travelled west for a round of friendly training games with Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) side, Cleveland Internationals Soccer Club on Saturday. The round of games saw each RDA side compete in two fixtures, including a game within their own true age group and one additional matchup against an older Internationals side. With the Internationals teams competing in just one game apiece, the Riverhounds understood they were up against concerns of muscle fatigue in the extreme temperatures and therefore travelled with plans to utilize full rosters.According to Director of Sport Science, Mike Whiteman, who travelled to Ohio with Jason Kutney and Scott Gibson, preparation for such a physical and mental test is nearly impossible.

“It was difficult trying to prepare the girls for the game and the conditions.  Typically, you just need to worry about the game.  When it’s that brutal out you also have to overcome the weather."
Kicking off at 10am amidst very harsh conditions, the U13/14s met their early challenge with class, overcoming the weather and frozen field conditions to top the Internationals by a score of 3-1. Through a powerful gusting wind that delivered snow and ice, the girls found success through movement in tight spaces around the field. Keeping the ball on the ground, the young Lady Hounds created pockets where they could draw in defenders before releasing the ball and finding new spaces. This pattern opened up clear looks at goal, leading to clean strikes on frame and ultimately, comfortable control of the match. With impressive offensive displays from Sabrina Bryan, Alexis Kendro, and Ciara Terrabasso, the attack was regular and potent for the Riverhounds, who started off the day with class.
In their second match of the day, the 13/14 girls would play an older and much physically larger side. In early attempts to possess through the middle third of the field, the Internationals found a Riverhounds unit that was ready to get stuck into tackles. Led by Ally Walker’s presence in central defense and a breakout performance from outside back, Jordyn Minda, the young Lady Hounds stifled the Internationals attempted possession and took control of the match by the 15th minute, never looking back. 
Despite numerous attempts to capitalize on stellar possession and combination play from back to front, the smaller RDA side could not physically produce a goal, ending the match deadlocked at zeros with a very good Internationals pre-ECNL team. 
Following the match, Jason Kutney reflected upon the tremendous response from the girls in their second game of the day –
“We are beyond proud of the girls,” said Kutney. “Squaring off against two fresh teams in frozen conditions like this, we used our entire roster and never broke rhythm from beginning to end. These girls each want to prove they are the best, and that attitude transitioned smoothly from the training ground to the game field.”
Coming off a brilliant 3-0 start to their 2012-2013 Atlantic Soccer League (ASL) campaign, and with many players just exiting a long high school season, the RDA Under-15 Girls arrived in Ohio with a roster heavily ridden with injuries. Without starting central midfielder, Maggie Coulson, and with several others ailing, the focus for the team was on possession out of the back and through the outside channels. 
In their opening game, the 15s met a strong U16/17 Internationals group that featured strength on the ball, good speed out of the back, and quality strikes from distance. Withstanding some early pressure, it would only take the RDA girls minutes to settle into possession. Led by holding midfielder, Shawna Zaken, dropped deeper into the midfield to replace Coulson, the girls began opening up lanes for dynamic runs through the midfield. These runs would eventually bear fruit, as the Lady Hounds would take a 1-0 lead off the foot of striker, Mikayla Mance.  
Coming out of halftime, the Riverhounds coaches were forced to replace Zaken. The creative midfielder began to experience pain from a nagging injury, and was removed from the field for precautionary reasons. 
According to Kutney, the loss of Zaken was very difficult to absorb for a team looking to finish off its competition –
“Shawna was unstoppable in the first half and gave the Internationals fits through her ball-winning and crafty runs. Without Maggie and then losing Shawna, we went with two defensive-minded midfielders in Leah (Memmo) and KB (Katie Banbury). With similar players sitting next to each other, we had to concede some of the attacking runs that carried us through the first half.”
In the second half, the older Internationals side showed their experience, capitalizing on a 10 minute mental lapse from the RDA girls. The Ohio-based team took advantage of some weak challenges and powered the ball into the back of the net twice, to take the lead. Despite dominant possession and several quality scoring chances through the remainder of the game, the Riverhounds fell 2-1, learning some very valuable lessons along the way.
“After taking the lead against an older physical team, we now need to learn how to keep the momentum going for the entire game and not allow any complacency to creep in,” said Gibson.  “The ball possession and tempo were very good, but we now need to learn how to manage the game and take our chances. At 1-0 anything can happen and it proved to be a very good lesson for the girls. As the group gains experience we will become more efficient at closing games out earlier.”
In the final friendly of the day, the u15s responded well to a stern post-game speech from Gibson a few hours earlier. However, it would be a combination of fatigue and general darkness from a loss of daylight that would let the girls down in the end. 
Owning possession and opportunities in the opening 40 minutes against a very dynamic Internationals team, the Lady Hounds were able to only find the back of the net once, again from Mikayla Mance. Freeing herself on a well-driven corner from Mikayla Livingston, Mance accelerated into the penalty spot and slotted the ball into the back of the net, cleanly. Missing several other key scoring opportunities over the remainder of the half, the team went into the midway break happy with their control of the flow but very disappointed for not having more to show for it. 
With temperatures dropping lower and lower as daylight faded, the Internationals found a few moments of success in the second stanza. Early in the half, the RDA girls began where they left off before the break, gaining possession and swinging the ball around their back line very effectively. With a slight breakdown in passing while in quality ownership of the ball, the Internationals were able to intercept the ball deep in the Riverhounds end and easily finish an opportunity in front of keeper, Emma Bruno. 
With the clock approaching 5:30pm and still 10+ minutes remaining in the game, the nighttime sky set in, leaving the field extremely dark. With the ball barely visible, the game conditions deteriorated quickly and players, parents, and coaches alike wondered why the referee continued to push on. The darkness would eventually translate into a late goal for the Internationals, pouncing on a ball that could not be located by the Riverhounds back line. As the defenders looked for the ball, a strong run from an Internationals striker slipped the player into the box for an easy finish. 
“We gave up one goal while trying to connect great passes out of our back and then one additional goal that, as a player, I honestly cannot consider valid given the fact that no one could even see the ball at that point,” commented Kutney following the match. 
“All things considered for these friendlies, I believe we proved our excellent abilities on the field with both age groups and look forward to future opportunities with a solid club like the Internationals. Our program is much stronger now than we were before the games.